Deathmatch Doves: Hawken Hands-On

By Jim Rossignol on March 8th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.


Hawken is a multiplayer F2P robot combat game in open beta. Jim Rossignol is a handsome, if slightly soft, games journalist. Together, they are words about a game on a blog, please.

Finally I managed to get some time alone with Hawken. We seemed like we were meant for each other: me a hardened dork with a history of multiplayer enthusiasms and robo-infatuations, him a speedy battle mech multiplayer combat game. We’d have so much in common.

Love at first fight?

No.

But there’s more to it than than my feeling that we just weren’t meant for a long term relationship. We got along. He made me laugh. I complimented his design sensibilities, and talked about how much he reminded me of when I was a younger player, full of hand-eye co-ordination, Quake-inspired fortress type games, and pizza.

Yes, there’s a lot to like about Hawken. The maps are small, claustrophobic, and interconnecting, like old deathmatch games. Hell, the entire thing is “like old deathmatch games”, with its running around and blowing stuff up. But it doesn’t look like those old games, because it looks incredibly and fancy and new. And you can heal yourself with a drone robot. Which feels odd, but okay.

Those maps are astonishingly pretty cyberscape dystopian futurism, too, with flickering neon, ash-flecked air, and battered synthetic surfaces. Some of them have impressive verticality: layered loops with the ability to drop down and leap up stories of huge, rumbling buildings. Yes, I really like Hawken’s visual design. But then the screenshots told you that. While I’ve gravitated towards games with large open spaces as the years have passed, I still quite like blasting my enemies into burning chunks in a tight corridor. (And. In. The. Game.) The maps are varied and quite beautiful, and so detailed. That part of your brain which filters visual noise is going to be engorged with new blood vessels after a week of this.


That leaping thing, I should say, isn’t just me being flippant about FPS movement, it’s actually crucial to the design of not just the maps, but Hawken as a whole. These are not mechwarrior’s striding tanks, these are skating, racing, leap rocket-bots. Everyone can hurl their robot about with jet thrusters, making dodging an accelerated doddle, and leaping up thirty feet a basic part of movement. This is a fast game, although not Quake fast, because you are so embodied in metal and glass. Here everything is about making you feel like you are piloting an agile mech, and it works well: cracks in the cockpit screen, sparks, stomps, and shared of hot metal in the air.

I think whether people are able to engage with and enjoy Hawken depends wholly on how they swallow this feeling of movement. I kind of like it, and I know others won’t. But I was certainly thankful that the FOV can be pushed up to 90 – without that touch things would have been a little constricted. I definitely took to it instantly (unusual for me these days) and enjoyed racking up kills on the prey-filled servers.

Anyway, yes: robot deathmatch. Hawken is about playing either team deathmatch, deathmatch, or one of the two ordnance-based game modes. The first of these is something like a conquest game mode, and the other launches giant aircraft things that bombard the enemy base unless they (or you, if the situation is reversed) can shoot it down with a big gun. These two later modes are the thing that makes Hawken feel like it’s own game, and not some sort of throwback. They feel intense and alive, and I like that.

Hawken is in open beta, but you can already spend money on its shop of things. To encourage you to spend, the starting robot is basically Evil Edna with a windscreen wiper.

Evil Edna                                                                                           Hawken Starting Mech

Which means that some people will want to upgrade to sexier machines. Others will make do with the killer TV set, of course, not least because there’s sort of a perverse joy in piloting a spectacularly ugly junkbot in a world of ultra-slick robo-design.

You can get a robot through many hours of play, of course, of you can use Earth money to but their digi-currency and get a new ride for under a fiver. This is sort of telling regarding the disparate values of virtual items across games. Compared to Planetside 2, which a gun is about a fiver, to get an entire robot (albeit without upgrading parts) for a fiver feels like a bargain. Weird.

The robots rotate on a trial basis, too, so you can always try something that isn’t a free junkbot. You get to sniff the merchandise without actually soiling it, because you can’t customise the trial robots. If you want to have your robot and change its parts, you have to buy. That can be done with XP you earned playing, of course, it just takes longer.

In conclusion: Hawken and I will see each other again. But we’re not going to have a long relationship. There’s just not enough there. Not for a mature gentleman. It feels incredibly well made, like a hand-crafted thing, except all digital grain and electronic edges. The combat is pacey and bombastic, and offers the right kind of reward for skill, as well as money.

I’m going to be keeping an eye on the beta, and I think you should, too. After all, it’s more free robots.

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25 Comments »

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  1. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Pew pew pew pew
    Thwomp Thwomp Thwomp Thwomp Thwomp
    Shoooom KERPOW
    Thwomp Thwomp Thwomp Thwomp
    HONK HONK
    BOOM

    • domogrue says:

      Yes, I did find it extremely impressive, especially that ‘pewpew’ bit.

      Very engaging, I must say.

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  2. Dominic White says:

    I love the starting mech in Hawken. It’s adorably ugly, like a wall-eyed pug puppy. It wants to grow up to be a Gundam or an Eva one day, but for now, it just looks like a TV with some legs and guns bolted on.

    I want to be able to roll with a high-end set of stats but the starting mech’s visuals.

    • waaaaaaaals says:

      You can change any of the class B machines ( Assault, Raider, Sharpshooter, Bruiser) to the Fred body parts that the Recruit (CR-T) has for it’s default but you have to real monies for this.

  3. StormTec says:

    The other thing about the starter robot (the CR-T, geddit?), at least last time I played, was that it’s actually a really good mech. With it’s default novice internals (which buff various things, and no other mechs come with internals pre-installed) and weapon loadout, it’s actually better than some of the mechs you have to buy.

    Although, I have not played for several months, so I don’t know how things have changed since then with regards to balancing.

    • goliath1333 says:

      They have actually patched the game a LOT since then. While I still play the CR-T out of a fear of new things (I have 10,000 in-game exp currency just sitting there) the other mechs are now much better. The CR-T does not scale well into player specialization. You can get good with the TOW launcher etc. but the CR-T does not deal well at all with snipers or grenadier. It’s vanilla one size fits all just gets rocked in certain circumstances.

      • Beemann says:

        A few of us have been talking to the devs about the Grenadier and Sharpshooter, which are outliers in terms of mech power right now (the Sharpshooter seems like it’ll get toned down and the Grenadier is powerful both in terms of raw destructive force and due to a bug in the game that can lock you in place if you get hit with enough explosives) and basically from what I can tell they’re examining both carefully. Additionally right now the game is skewed towards burst damage, but there’s a good chance that will change
        Adhesive has shown interest in supporting competitive play, so the current remarkably imbalanced state isn’t how things are necessarily meant to be. They themselves have stated that they dont find Hawken to be competition ready on any front, which is refreshing to hear after the last few games I’ve beta tested

  4. waaaaaaaals says:

    The best part about the body parts used in the “Evil Edna” starting machine is that they’re the “Fred” series of body parts.

    It’s as if they knew all along.

    Also the CR-T is in many ways the best because it has free internals which don’t even have a downside to their stats, unlike every other internal. It actually makes the Assault machine (which is statistical identical to the CR-T in every way except for the internal slot upgrades) an inferior option.

  5. Strangerator says:

    Hey RPS, might want to cover this: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/portalarium/shroud-of-the-avatar-forsaken-virtues-0

    If you don’t do a story in the next several hours it might be funded before you even get to it!

  6. Discopanda says:

    Jim, these robots aren’t even wearing hats or monocles. Why are you giving this game the time of day?

  7. wodin says:

    Confused with the love at first sight..NO…then no mention really why it was a no.

  8. timethor says:

    This reminded me to go install the game. Due to circumstances I can’t currently use a keyboard/mouse, but the 360 controller seems to work fine (once you bind the jetpack to a suitable button.. I was using it all the time during my brief play session, but it wasn’t binded by default? Maybe I’m doing it wrong). No force feedback though, would’ve added to the immersion :(

    Maybe I should look into how long it will take to gather enough points to buy a cool mech with the best weapons etc. Even if paying 5 bucks for a good mech is reasonable (considering you get a free game), it wouldn’t really feel right knowing that I won a firefight because I spent money when my enemy didn’t.

    Also: is it just me or do the mechs give a high-pitched whining noise? I thought my computer/speakers were malfunctioning, but I could remove the sound by turning down the sound effects in the audio settings (keeping master volume etc high).

  9. WMain00 says:

    Its good and it has a nice polish to it, but the free to play model is awful at the moment. On average about 150 in game credits per match, but the cost of buying a single equipment item is in the thousands. So in order to purchase a single equipment module it takes over 26 games before you reach the necessary credit level.

    Meanwhile, sections such as aesthetic and model choice are totally barred off.

    The total cost for a mech is fairly high and requires about 60-70 games.

    Forbes article on Hawken best describes the experience; a fun game utterly constrained and barred by a poor f2p that only rewards those willing to pay large fees toward it.

    • Beemann says:

      When that article was written, the most powerful mech in the game was the starting one. Additionally, while there are certain vertical issues, Adhesive has stated that they’re still working on the whole progression/customization aspect of the game and are continuously reevaluating aspects of it.

      As for credits earned per game, that 150 should be for what is roughly a 10 minute match. If you were to play about an hour a day for a month, you’d earn enough to purchase 4 mechs
      Each mech allows you to utilize an initial combination of 2 guns, with one extra gun onlocked for free at level 4
      Given that there are currently less than 20 mechs, you could basically earn your way through the game at a faster rate than Meteor plans on adding new mechs (one a month for the next… 10 months I think is what we’re left with). It’s logical to assume that as they get more mechs, older models will get cheaper (as was the case in LoL) or that they’ll have sales on particular products (like Tribes did). In the meantime, there’s promo codes going out all the time for 5000 Hawken Credits
      Right now you can use HAWKENEC3, if anyone was wondering

      Additionally, you dont need 14 mechs or whatever the current number is
      You only really need about 3 or 4. If you’re not sure about a model, wait and see if it goes on trial, or ask around on the forums and watch a few videos of it in action.

      And cosmetics being charged for hurts you how? Charging for cosmetics is the right way to F2P

      • AlienMind says:

        So, you are invalidating the statements of WMain00 because of time issues and give blurry aspects about what has changed since then. I hate lobbyists for 100% financial companies.

        • Beemann says:

          I’m pointing out that
          A: This game, like many other F2P titles that have had the same (or a far worse system) will likely balance out after more content gets introduced.
          B: That the current system would allow you to (with an alarmingly short daily gaming schedule) earn every bit of content at a rate that would basically cause Adhesive to make no money. Additionally, the content you’d actually have use for as a player has a relatively low total cost, particularly when you consider the fact that you’d technically have the capacity to field 3 different mechs at any given time even without paying a cent
          and C: That if you release a F2P game, you have to charge for something. If there’s virtually no content and you cant charge for cosmetics (or at least not on any level that would encourage buying them) then how do you make money?

          If you want to argue against the use of F2P, then I suppose you’d need to figure out a way by which a title with no prior following (either for the company or the franchise itself) is expected to reliably make and keep an adequate multiplayer population without making a break for the lowest common denominator (read: making another modern warfare shooter)

          Essentially my argument is based off of trends and the reality of the current system. I’m not going to bother trying to defend every last portion of the current system, because I myself am giving negative feedback on certain aspects of it, and because a good chunk of the game is subject to very large changes
          Additionally, outside of mentioning the existence of worse systems, I’m not going to bother trying to argue that the game is “fine” because they’re worse, as that’s the worst kind of argument to make in this instance. What I will say is that given the current resources, this isn’t outside the norm, and furthermore outside of balance outliers that get fixed in a relatively short number of patches, new content can’t really break the bank in terms of virtual currency or real cash. Most of the money made on the game should be made off of cosmetics, which is how Free to Play ought to work

  10. hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

    I agree that it doesn’t feel like there is enough to the game. Feels like about half of the time spent in development was used on the menus, and the gewgaws that litter the store begging you to buy them.

    And on that note, I don’t care for their implementation of f2p at all. Everything is a grind, getting new mechs and weapons will take you forever unless you’re willing to spend quite a lot of cash- most of the things you can buy cost more than an entire game on Steam. It also doesn’t help that once you own everything, you have to level it up if you want your equipment to be as good as everyone else’s.

    • AlienMind says:

      … but financially it works! Time to learn from the best financial firms and choose gameplay, people. You can do it!

  11. captainparty says:

    I am normally terrible at online games, but I loved the visuals of Hawken so I gave it a whirl, ended up coming in the top 2 in my first 3 matches with the starter Mech, this was a few months, perversly, being good at the game kind of ruined it for me.

  12. Bobtree says:

    I tried Hawken last fall and didn’t like the HUD, screen shaking, mushy mouse aiming, or the feel of movement. It seems lost in the middle between “fast” and “big” robot games and didn’t satisfy my appetite for either. Then there’s the F2P, unlock grinding, and store.

    I just updated and tried a match again, and all my settings and progress had been wiped. The server browser does not show ping times. The quickmatched map it loaded was an incredibly ugly brown city. I still find Hawken seriously underwhelming.

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